It's safe to say ESPN boxing analyst and veteran trainer Teddy Atlas believes in the talent of two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko even more than most.
A veteran of four Olympic games as a television analyst, Atlas has followed Lomachenko's career rise through the amateur ranks leading up to his professional debut on Saturday. Atlas, in fact, was in attendance in Las Vegas when Lomachenko knocked out veteran featherweight contender Jose Ramirez in the fourth round on the undercard of the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez pay-per-view.
Lomachenko, 25, who was also 6-0 in four quasi-professional bouts in which the fighters were paid and fought without headgear under the "World Series Of Boxing" banner, impressed many with his performance.
Atlas wasn't surprised with what he saw from Lomachenko, one of the most decorated amateur fighters in history. But he was so thoroughly impressed after just one pro fight that he gave Lomachenko a vote as his No. 10 pound-for-pound fighter in ESPN's latest rankings.
"I have the experience of having seen these guys up close and called their [Olympic] fights," Atlas said. "I'm obviously more familiar than maybe the average guy out there on Lomachenko. I know what he is. I know what he's about.
"Besides the obvious of a two-time gold medalist, he's a very dedicated, complete fighter. There's no satisfaction for him other than being the best fighter in the world. There's nothing short of that as a goal. A lot of guys talk about it because they are expected to say that. But it's beyond that with him in a way. He really feels a supreme confidence that he's the best and wants to prove it."
Lomachenko is so confident, in fact, that his original intention was to fight for a world title in his pro debut. That didn't happen, of course, yet he still is angled toward a title shot in his second bout in January, likely against Orlando Salido, a veteran of 55 pro fights who stopped Orlando Cruz on Saturday's undercard to claim a vacant title.
"To me, it's almost hieroglyphics in the boxing world what Lomachenko is doing because most guys want to be pampered and want to be able to slowly squeeze what they can out of their career and the sport," Atlas said. "Usually, most guys want to take as little risk as possible to get paid as much as they can. He has taken as much risk as is necessary for him to fulfill what he believes is his destiny.
"I believe that he has the belief that his destiny is to be a very special fighter and be the best fighter that there is to the extent that is possible."
Atlas admits Lomachenko's drive is very impressive to "a guy who doesn't get impressed that easily, meaning me." He also sees correlations and parallels between Lomachenko and naturals in other sports like Tiger Woods.
"I look beyond the ring and how Tiger and his father had plans for him to do things that golfers had never done before," Atlas said. "Their plan was for him to do it quicker and faster, and they trained for that ever since the beginning. And not only do you learn how to bring your 9-iron back to be more successful, you learn how to overcome and believe in yourself in those pressure situations so that you will be dominant and will conquer.
"[Lomachenko] is fulfilling that part in the same way. He is putting himself in those waters with the best that's there and he's doing it right away. He put his money where his mouth is, and I appreciate that. I know how uncommon that is, and because it's so uncommon, I applaud it and I recognize it. And my way to do that is to put him in the top 10 pound-for-pound."
Atlas believes he is matching Lomachenko's desire to be the best right away by recognizing him, right now, among the sport's elite.
"I have no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a world champion in his next fight," Atlas said. "I have no doubt in my mind that he is going to knock Salido out. No doubt in my mind. In my mind, he's already a world champion, it's just a matter of him getting in the ring to fulfill that destiny. I have no doubt that it's done. The moment he gets in the ring, it's done."